How to build a community (e)
Here for your delectation are just a couple of my most recent dating experiences:
Story #1: A long-held grudge.
He contacts me on bearwww.com. He’s a big bearded muscle-bear. He’s pretty hot. He tells me that he’s spending his holidays near to my place in the mountains with an eclectic bunch of arty friends and that they are, between them, doing up a tumbledown farmhouse.
He gives me his number, and I call him, and we chat about our careers (he’s a musician) and dating, and believe it or not, we talk about how crazy it is out there.
He invites me to come over and meet the guys in the farmhouse one evening, and because he’s friendly and clever, and because there are few opportunities to socialise up here, and ok, yes, because he’s pretty sexy, I agree.
After we finish our half-hour chat I look at the map but can’t find the village he mentioned, so I phone him back again, and he explains where it is and then says (the conversation was in French), “So great, bring a slab of beef for the barbecue and a bottle of wine and I’m sure we’ll all have a great evening.”
“Thanks,” I say, “but it probably won’t be beef. I’ve been vegetarian for twenty-five years.”
“Yeah, well, you Germans always are.”
“Oh, I’m not German. I’m English.”
I frowned at my phone for a while, and then tried to call him back, but he was clearly now not accepting my calls.
Intrigued as much as anything, I went back online to see if I could find him.
“Just out of interest,” I typed. “Is it vegetarians that you don’t like, or the English?”
Came the reply, “Vegetarianism is a pathetic luxury of the bourgeois rich in the West, and the English are bastards: you burnt our Joan of Arc.” (And I’m not making this up!)
“Are you winding me up?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
I was stunned for a bit. When I finally got my brain back into gear, I typed, “As far as vegetarianism is concerned, I would go and see in the third world just how many people have enough money to eat meat.”
“As for Joan of Arc, a) it was in 1403 so I don’t think I can really be held personally responsible, b) it was your own king who handed her over because he wanted to get rid of her, and c) if you look at more recent history, say, circa 1939-45, you might find that the British haven’t been so bad to France.”
At which he launched into a stream of abusive, crazy messages that by their sheer number were so upsetting I had no choice but to block his account.
Thank God I found out before I went over there. Imagine if he had realised I was a Joan-of-Arc-burner once I turned up. He probably would have barbecued me.
Story #2: No so Zen.
Another internet contact. We chat for a while, and seem to have plenty in common. He seems clever and cultured and spends many of his weekends hiking around my place up here in the hills. He’s a Buddhist, which for some reason makes me hopeful he will be a little less aggressive than, say, Joan of Arc. He certainly seems so.
After a few weeks chatting, we decide that we have enough common ground: books and music and a love of nature, to make a meet worthwhile. I agree to make the hour-long drive to go and visit him the following weekend.
I look forward to it all week. When you’re living on your own and are pretty much fed up with that, a little hope is a big thing.
On Friday I expect to see him on msn to confirm our Saturday date, and I do, but all my messages throughout the day go unanswered. I assume that he simply isn’t in front of his computer.
On Saturday morning two more messages go unanswered and so I start typing in capitals, the msn equivalent of shouting. “OH! HELLO! YOU! ARE WE MEETING OR NOT?”
And so he finally answers. “Sorry, look, it’s difficult.”
“Yes, I did want to meet up with you, I have really liked our chats, and I liked all your photos on the website...”
“But then I saw your face-pic on msn.”
“Oh, what’s wrong with my face-pic on msn?”
“Well, I’m afraid that my main criteria in a man is that he has to be thin.”
“Thin? But the msn photo is just a face pic.”
“Yeah. I’m not saying you’re fat, but the picture on msn, well, it’s just not thin enough.”
“How can your ‘main criteria’ be thinness?!”
“And why choose that photo? Why base your decision on the one photo you don’t like?”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s going to work.”
“Have you looked at your Buddha lately?”
“I’m sorry I don’t understand.”
“Well, he’s not exactly thin, is he?”
Story #3: Just a preference. He contacts me on gayromeo. He's cute and swarthy, and, like me, a biker. But the discussion doesn't go far because when I look at his profile I realise that there is one single box that he hasn't filled in: Safe Sex. When I ask him why he says, "It's just a preference." "What is?"
"What is what?" "What is your preference?"
"Raw. I don't like condoms." "Well, personally, I don't like AIDS," I reply. This time it's me that closes the discussion.
Story #4: Not that one.
So I decide to go out and meet real people. Clearly the internet isn’t working for me.
The Glam in Nice has a monthly bear party, and that, to me at any rate, sounds like fun.
When I get there, the bar is packed. The majority aren’t really what I would call bears, but then this is Nice. But even the skinny Mediterranean boys have resisted their razors for one day at least, and a little stubble is enough for me.
I stand chatting to two friends for a while. One tells me what a brilliant time he had in Berlin – how friendly everyone was. The other tells says that the guys in Barcelona are incredibly welcoming too. And then the music gets louder and so we stand and watch a people dancing and even have a little groove ourselves. My mates head off and so I go for the British option: I return to the bar to get sloshed.
Now, the Glam's Bear Party is as good a night out as you'll ever get find Nice. The organizers have worked solidly over a long period of time to make it so, and the results show: the place is packed and there are enough of the bearded, butch-looking guys I go for to inspire hope that I could actually meet someone here.
But of course we're not in Berlin here, and we're not in Barcelona either.
These guys aren't very good at actually talking to each other. And when they don't know what else to do, they stand around and pout. Quite who decided that pouting is sexy and smiling is not, I’m unsure. It probably comes down to the fashion industry. I figure that top-models might find it hard to smile when they haven’t eaten anything for six months.
Once or twice I attempt a conversation with someone standing beside me, but for the most part they frown and turn away. One guy actually responds with, “Sorry, but do we know each other?”. The implication is clearly that if we don’t, then why on Earth am I talking to him?
And then it happens. The longed for moment! A guy forces his way through the crowd towards me. To start with I think he’s heading for the bar, but no, he wants to talk to me. Oh joy!
“Hi,” he says. “My mate really fancies you.”
Ok, so I haven’t heard that line since infant’s school, but hey, who cares?
“Great,” I say, glancing behind him. “Let’s meet him!”
And then the friend appears. He’s blond and skinny and clean-shaven but that’s all fine. I’m just happy to meet another human being. “Hi,” I say to the guy, smiling broadly.
But he doesn’t smile back. In fact he doesn’t even look at me. He turns to his friend and says, “Not him, you idiot! That guy over there. The guy with the pecs.”
I stand there frozen as the two guys head off to hunt the “guy with the pecs.”
I feel like I have been bitch-slapped, and I can’t help but wonder if either of them have the slightest idea what they have just done to my evening.
So, back to my question. When did gay men get to be so crazy? And when did they get to be so mean to each other? Or perhaps it’s not about gay men. Perhaps it’s those on the Internet? Perhaps it’s the French? Perhaps it’s the specific subset of gay French men on the net? Or is it everyone? Is this just the new “way to be” in the noughties?
But I honestly don't believe that all these problems are quite as general as all that.
Tom says that Berlin is brilliant. Pierre says the guys in Barcelona are friendly. And when I go out in London, I know that the guys there are perfectly happy to chat to me and a few even chat me up. I generally get to go home, if not accompanied, then at least feeling a little happier, at least a little better about myself than when I went out.
I can’t help but think that all this rudeness comes down to low self-esteem.
Such is their need to convince themselves that they are worthy and attractive; these guys spend more time at the gym than they do reading books. You can just imagine the shame if someone caught them talking to a guy without pecs: their reputations would be ruined for life. And of course, with their peer group hovering nearby waiting to dish the same shit to them, who can blame them for being afraid?
And in the end, that, I think, is the problem here: this is a circular system. And the only way to break a circular system is for someone to behave differently.
So here are a few suggestions for a better world:
Talk to people. You don’t have to fancy them, they don’t need to have pecs and they don’t need to be wearing the “right” kind of jeans. You can talk to them no matter what they look like, and you might even find it’s fun. In fact you might find that the guys who spend their time in the bookshop instead of the gym are actually more interesting to talk to. Imagine that!
Smile. It has been scientifically proven that smiling makes you happier. It has been proven that smiling makes you more attractive - scowling is not sexy. It is proven that frowning gives you wrinkles. There is no reason not to smile. Try it right now.
Protect your health and the health of those around you. HIV doesn’t only destroy immune systems and lives. It doesn't only make our friends vanish from the face of the Earth. It also destroys the entire basis for community cohesion. The reason is simple: one cannot build a community between people who are trying to kill each other.
Don’t use your words like weapons. It’s not so hard. Don’t say, “Not that one, the guy with the pecs.” Try, “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant someone else. Nice meeting you though cutey.” Don’t say, “What you? And Me? As if!” Say, “Oh thanks, I’m really flattered, you’re a cute guy, but I don’t think it would really work. Have a great evening though.”
And if you’re thinking that it ain’t rocket science, well, you’re right. A smile, a conversation, a bit of respect, a bit of politeness: the result might be that we all make some new friends. The result might be that they actually want to introduce us to their friends. (And one of their friends might even be that guy with the pecs you so wanted to meet).
Now what’s the word we use for that kind of thing, that friends meeting friends. Friends worrying about each other. Friends introducing friends thing? Oh yeah, that’s right. Community.